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US unveils chip-zapping ‘lightning bomb’ to tackle Saddam

And anything else electronic within 300 metres of whatever it hits, allegedly...

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Remember the neutron bomb, the radiation-rich atomic weapon of the 1980s designed to kill people while leaving buildings intact?

Well now we have a weapon suited for 21st century war - designed to fry electronics while leaving people, mostly, unharmed. Allegedly.

High-Power microwave bombs are "man-made lightning bolts crammed into cruise missiles", Time (somewhat breathlessly describing the bomb as potentially the next "wonder weapon") reports.

According to Time's Rumsfeld-profiling, techno Gulf War-boosting cover feature, the weapons create powerful electromagnetic pulses that would fry electronics and communications gear over a range of around 300 metres.

When the bomb reaches its target, capacitors on board discharge an energy pulse equivalent to 2 billion Watts or more.

HPM bombs works on the same principle as the GoldenEye device in the James Bond film of the same name (er, you mean they don't, really? -Ed), except they're proportionately less devastating and don't involve the messy business of detonating nuclear munitions in space.

So are HPMs likely to cause civilian casualties?

The article in Time concedes that the devices "could destroy nearby heart pacemakers and other life-critical electrical systems in hospitals or aboard aircraft" but argues (half convincingly) that they are less likely than to cause collateral damage than conventional explosives.

It spins the story to suggest HPMs could be "key weapons for targeting Saddam Hussein's stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons" capable of frying the "sophisticated computers and electronic gear necessary to produce, protect, store and deliver such agents".

"The powerful electromagnetic pulses can travel into deeply buried bunkers through ventilation shafts, plumbing and antennas," it adds.

That's assuming US intelligence knows where these munitions are and that these electronic devices aren't housed in Faraday cages, that is.

Time's article (carried on a cover titled "Pentagon Warlord - How Donald Rumsfeld plans to defeat Saddam") came out on the same day as large-scale protests in Washington and throughout the world by peace campaigners concerned about the cost in civilian casualties of a possible war on Iraq.

The appearance of a highly positive story, together with a previously super-secret, magic bullet techno weapon could therefore be seen as handy. ®

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